Thursday, May 18, 2017

Independent Film Festival Boston 2017.02: Furusato and The Crest

I don't set out to curate days at film festivals; it's just that this sort of thing can happen when you're there on a pass and not building around certain films: The thing that strikes your fancy for the 7pm film also strikes your fancy at nine, and you wind up seeing two movies about people returning to an evacuated ancestral land.

This pairing probably makes The Crest look a little more lackluster than it actually is, especially when you get to the Q&A and one of the subjects is talking about how he goes back to Ireland every year since this first visit, because it really does exert a magnetic pull. I mean, I don't doubt that he feels that way, but a week-long summer vacation a boat-ride away from the actual island one's great-grand-parents emigrated from is something a bit different from the people of Minamisoma, who in many cases are returning to homes that their family has occupied for centuries despite the fact that the radiation sickness could very well kill them in ten years.

FURUSATO filmmakers

Speaking of, say hi to Furusato director Thorsten Trimpop in the center, flanked by Tess from the festival and Megan O'Grady, who I believe is from a Cambridge-based organization that supports documentary film (please correct me). Trimpop gave us plenty of tales of how this was, as he shot it, very close to being a one-person operation at times, with him actually heading to Japan even before funding was secured, and often carrying his own camera and holding his own boom mike. Docs are often made on tight budgets, but that's impressive even by those standards. It gave him a lot of room to improvise, though - he talked about how he met one of his first subjects just walking around and seeing somebody carrying music equipment around on the street.

It was a drawn-out, often odd shoot; he mentioned that they shot over several years, which created challenges when it came time to edit - put the film together chronologically, and you're rushing through seasons, both creating a certain unsteadiness and causing subjects to drop in and out; edit it to look more like a single year or so, and you're losing a dimension. They opted for the former, for the most part. Also kind of weird was the official representative of the energy company that operated the Fukashima plant; it seems that they made a token request, not expecting anyone to get back because the company has generally not commented, and then this guy shows up in Boston saying he can talk and film for a couple of days. Cut him out, and the filmmakers would be accused of ignoring part of the story, but that perspective is really not part of the movie. They kind of decided to make his scenes informative but kind of surreal, especially since his presentation and ideas were a bit along those lines anyway.

THE CREST Filmmakers

And here are the folks from The Crest: Cinematographer Georgia Pantazopoulos, director Mark Christopher, and subject Dennis "DK" Kane. Ironically, DK is the cousin who lives in California; his cousin Andrew, from Cape Cod, didn't make it. He was actually in Ireland, appearing with an exhibition of his art at the Blasket Center shown in the film.

Covino talked a bit about how, as with his previous film A Band Called DEATH, this one kind of happened organically - he found the subjects, saw that something interesting was on the cusp of happening, and following. This time, the story didn't develop as well, even though DK talked about how Covino was trying to direct it into being a more narratively-focused movie

Anyway, lots of friends and family of the cast and crew here for this one, which always makes the disgruntled feeling with a disappointing movie feel a little worse. I don't begrudge anyone liking it, and I could see why they did, but I also couldn't help but notice where it was leaning on that pre-existing affection for the subject matter.

Furusato (2016)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

According to the director's introduction for Furusato - a low-key documentary about the people still living in a city near the Fukushima Daichi reactor - most people simply translate the title as "hometown", but a more poetic reading is "the first and last landscapes one sees". That's something to keep in mind while watching the film, which is far from rabble-rousing or blame-seeking, but instead something of a chronicle of stubbornness and inertia, as people try to continue their lives despite what they face.

The hometown examined is Minamisoma, located at such a distance from the reactor that the border between officially inhabitable and evacuated runs through the center of the city. As the film opens, evacuated families are returning - some just to quickly recover their possessions, others to work their family farm, others because their home is a shrine, and maybe they would have resettled if that were not the case. As volunteers attempt to meticulously remove and test the black dust that has blown into the area, the town struggles to return to normal, even as many have seen the writing on the wall and left.

Director Thorsten Trimpop does not spend a lot of time with experts; the fellow from the power company tends to talk in banal generalities and it slowly becomes clear that Kenji, the man with a hazmat suit doing much of the testing and cleaning is not doing so in any sort of official capacity. Instead, he mostly follows a group of ordinary people, though he varies his approach: The woman who returned because her home is a shrine spends most of her time on-screen talking directly to the camera, with frustration and fatalism coming to the fore much more quickly than might be expected, while Miwa, a woman in her twenties, occasionally makes an aside as she and her father go about the work of trying to work a poisoned farm. The film is affecting, at times because it can be stoic as opposed to overtly passionate, zeroing in on this interesting group and letting them just be rather than spending a lot of time filling the gaps of their stories.

Full review on EFC.

The Crest

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2017 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Surfing footage and shots of the Irish countryside are things that seldom fail to impress on screen, and The Crest doesn't really let down when that's what the camera is pointed at. Knowing that they were going to be starting from there, the makers of the movie must have felt that they were in good shape early on, but documentaries are risky endeavors by their nature. Eventually, the interesting idea and nice-looking footage need an actual movie to form around them, and this one maybe doesn't come up with enough material.

It has a neat hook: Two Americans living on opposite sides of the country - Cape Cod surfer Andrew Jacob and Dennis "DK" Kane, who builds custom boards in San DIego - are both descendants of Pádraig Ó Catháin, aka "An Rí", who was King of Ireland's Blasket Islands around the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The cousins have never met, but after learning about each other they decide to take part in a family reunion and journey to their ancestral home to surf the waves near the now-abandoned islands off the coast of Dingle. Should be fun!

And it is, sure, but there just doesn't wind up being a feature-length movie there. Andrew and DK are nice guys, folks most people would enjoy hanging around with, and perhaps too loose and too similar to each other to have especially interesting points of view on what they're learning. They're pleasant and friendly but we seldom see them doing much more than passively observing each other and Ireland, and there's not the sort of on-screen chemistry that makes a great movie. They're good dudes but not great characters, and when the surfing tale director Mark Christopher Covino hangs the film on doesn't amount to much, there's not any sort of a backup plan.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: